Who chose choice, and whose choice is chosen?

While I'm waiting for the Palin-Biden debate to start, I figured I might as well address the urgent issue of Sarah Palin's gay friend. Normally, this wouldn't be such a big deal, but as Governor Palin is being spun as a major homo-hatin', bible-totin' bigot, I guess it comes as a surprise to some that she would have a gay friend. Not just as any old gay friend, but someone who according to Palin is "one of my best friends."

"Funny that she and John McCain get so little credit from the gay community for what have actually been quite progressive attitudes," remarked Glenn Reynolds when he linked the above.

Added Gay Patriot,

While I disagree with the Alaska Governor's contention that her friend "made a choice" to be gay, I'm pleased that we have yet another piece of video showing Palin saying that she doesn't judge people because they are gay. She has remained friends with a woman even after learning of her lesbianism.
I don't mean to quibble here, but I watched the video of the interview carefully, and I don't think Sarah Palin said her friend made the choice to be gay. What she said was that her friend ("one of my best friends") "made a choice that isn't a choice I would have made."

I think it's fair to infer from the context that she refers to her friend's lifestyle choice, but does that necessarily mean her sexuality itself? These are not synonymous. As even the most committed ideologically driven activists will admit, human sexuality - regardless of whether it is innate, learned, or predetermined at birth - does not always dictate or guarantee that a person will live a certain way. There are celibate heterosexuals, celibate homosexuals, celibate bisexuals, just as there are varying levels of active sexual behavior. Not all people express their sexuality, much less in the manner that they might ultimately prefer in their heart of hearts. There are people who would prefer homosexual relations to heterosexual relations but engage in heterosexual relations, usually because they don't want to face the social stigma associated with homosexuality. Typically, these people are called "closeted." I'm sure there are people who prefer children to adults (or animals to people) but settle for sex with adult humans because they don't want to face the consequences of doing what they'd really prefer. (Much as I disapprove of sex with children or animals, this is not intended as a moral judgment; only an observation about human nature.)

As to whether a person's sexuality is a choice, it gets a bit more complicated. I have never been able to understand how anyone can be certain about the exact nature of mechanism inside that most personal area of another human being's mind - the area responsible for what we call human sexuality.

But what tends to happen in the political debate is that a large number of activists on one side insist that "homosexuality" is a choice, while a large number of activists on the other insist that "it" is not.

Aren't they being a bit presumptuous about individuals who are, after all, total strangers? How can anyone know for sure whether a person "chose" his sexuality other than that particular individual?

In this respect, I think President Bush's answer to Bob Schieffer during the 2004 debate was a lot smarter than he was given credit for:

SCHIEFFER: Mr. President, let's get back to economic issues. But let's shift to some other questions here.

Both of you are opposed to gay marriage. But to understand how you have come to that conclusion, I want to ask you a more basic question.

Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?

BUSH: You know, Bob, I don't know.

If we return to the example of the closeted homosexual, few would argue that being in the closet is not a choice. And if being celibate or being in the closet is a choice, then deciding to have sex or come out is also a choice. But as to a person's innermost sexual orientation and desires, how anyone can know whether that is a choice except the individual?

Yet people on both "sides" claim to know what is going on in the minds of total strangers, and of course the arguments go in circles.

I'm not sure why this matters so much to so many people, but it does.

I mean, there's still a right to choice, isn't there?

posted by Eric on 10.02.08 at 08:54 PM


I have a strange theory about sexuality that is backed up by no science whatsoever.

It is that we start out as bisexual or nonsexual as zygotes. Then, the environment of the womb, full of hormones and chemicals (which are not in the control of the mother) encourages an innate sexuality probability to one side of the bisexual middle.

The mix of hormones will mostly induce an innate preference in females for males and in males for females. This in varying degrees, but evolutionarily required.

I think it very rare, the individual who has ZERO sexual interest in their own sex.

Equally rare are those who have no preference at all - man or woman, sex is sex (and I find this the only disturbing possibility, though not sure why)

Because sexuality is an evolutionary trait (I believe) the majority will always be heterosexual. If that were not the case it would not be the cultural norm over so many years.

I'd like to add that if (big if, because it really isn't known) Sarah Palin thinks homosexuality is a choice, the fact that people presumably making that choice doesn't bother her is maybe even an extra tolerance and diversity brownie point for her.

Donna B.   ·  October 3, 2008 12:27 AM

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